Smart Talk: Q&A with Ana Aponte-Curtis

Ana Aponte-Curtis is the vice president for events planning at National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

What was the first event you helped plan?

I began planning dinners for the NAACP back in the ’70s. I planned our annual dinner, held every year in New York. The meeting was for about 400–500 attendees and held at the New York Hilton Hotel. [Planning] was done manually back then; we had no Internet, no Facebook.

How many NAACP events have you planned since joining the staff in 1966? What was your favorite event and why?

Since joining the NAACP, I have planned so many events each year that going back to when I began would keep me writing forever. But I can say that in one year alone we plan about 10–15 events. I have two all-time favorite events: our annual convention and our NAACP Image Awards each year.

The convention provides me with the opportunity to meet new people, in a new city, every year. It allows us to take an exhibit hall and transform it not only for our exhibits, but our main session and, of course, our closing banquet. Our convention plays host to 1,200 youth who compete for scholarships in various disciplines such as dance, poetry, culinary arts, instrumental music (classical and contemporary), drama and filmmaking. It is wonderful to be a part of this activity and see young high school students be the best they can be; it has also afforded me the opportunity to meet U.S. presidents and others who appear during our national convention.

Our Image Awards have been held each year during Black History Month since our inception, and have been the nation’s premier event at the forefront of the struggle to ensure the inclusion, positive representation and recognition of African Americans in the entertainment industry. Our Image Awards are just like the Oscars, Emmys and other award shows, but the NAACP’s event is honoring the artistic accomplishments of communities of color. It’s a great event and one that I love to plan.

What are the key factors when deciding where to hold your events, especially the national convention?

For the NAACP, it is a bid process. The key factors for us are always rates, along with diversity of the hotel and/or center where we will host an event, especially the national convention.

The 2015 national convention will be held at Pennsylvania Convention Center July 11−15. How does Philadelphia match the demographics of your attendees and their interests?

The NAACP has met four times in Philadelphia. It is a diverse community and a diverse workforce, so this was an easy choice for us.

The 2016 NAACP convention in Cincinnati will likely draw U.S. presidential candidates from both parties. What extra precautions and planning are involved when high-profile speakers address your conventions?

Once a high-profile person agrees to address our convention, we go into the city with a team to speak to the appropriate police department and security at the center, and conduct a walk-through of the venue. When an advance team contacts us, we then conduct another site visit with it, but this time we include A/V personnel, convention decorator personnel, an NAACP security team and representatives of the city where we are meeting. If required, we will screen our attendees.

On the day when this is happening, we reduce the amount of events prior to this activity. We also divide our attendees into groups and provide each group with a holding room with chairs. Our [successive] waves of entry into the hall start with our board of directors, seniors and those with handicaps, program participants, our voting members, our alternates and finally all others.

Does the NAACP contract with businesses and vendors that are not NAACP members?

The NAACP has and will continue to do business with companies that can provide the product we are requesting. We do encourage all who wish to do business with the NAACP to at least become members of the NAACP, but that is not a prerequisite.

Describe the mission of the National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners and its goals since you became chairperson of the organization in 2012.

Our mission is dedicated to the training needs of African American meeting planners and association executives. Since I took office in 2012, we have established a national office, hired an executive director, reduced our debt and grown our membership. My mission is to ensure that when there is a discussion about the hospitality industry, NCBMP is at the table. We hope to expand understanding in the political arena of the role that the meetings and hospitality industry plays in the American economy.


Hometown: New York City, born and raised; now resides in Baltimore, Maryland

Education: City University of New York City College

Summary: Began working for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1966. Serves as chairperson of the National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners.

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